It was in January this year when the local small farmer Michael Torbett of Terra Vita Farm reached out to me with the request to become “Certified Naturally Grown.” I had never heard of this certification or organization, so set about to do my homework. Know your farmer, know your food; I am an advocate of any certification tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers using natural methods for production.
There are often claims attached to food products. How do consumers know which ones are valid and which ones are “greenwashing,” claims that do not mean anything but are meant to appeal to consumers? Voluntary, independent third-party certification allows producers to address these consumer concerns.
NC State University Farm School says “benefits to become certified include validation and more universal recognition of a farmer’s efforts, and authentication of claims. A certification label may be used as a marketing strategy to appeal to a certain market segment; products may also claim a higher price. Some farmers may choose to get their products certified to publicly share their values. The market segment to which most certifications will appeal is focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice. This market segment represents about 1 in 4 Americans and has been growing steadily.
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a nonprofit organization offering certification for farmers and beekeepers using natural methods, very similar to the methods required for organic certification. A less expensive alternative to USDA Organic certification, it requires a farm operation to use practices like USDA organic plus some additional features. The program includes an online application process, farm inspections by peer farmers, random pesticide residue testing, an annual membership fee and some record keeping. (https://www.cngfarming.org/)
CNG encourages weed, pest, and disease management practices that are: 1) preventative, such as cultural practices, variety selection, companion planting, crop rotation, and sanitation 2) mechanical and physical practices, such exclusion, mulching, flaming, pruning, hand removal, lures and traps, and 3) biological, botanical, or mineral, such as bacteria that target pest insects, some botanical extracts and protective clays, among others. Inputs containing synthetic materials are not allowed unless a specific variance is granted.
Soil practices encouraged include crop-rotation, rest/fallow periods, annual or perennial cover crops, use of compost, minimize bare soil, maintain surface plant residue, contour plowing, permanent bed system (no till), and tillage practices designed to reduce compaction.
The program also encourages the farmer to set goals in several areas. For soil, preventing erosion and runoff, building organic matter, cover cropping, reducing compaction. For water, practices focus on efficient use, rainwater capture, run-off prevention, and protecting wetlands and waterways. All inputs are to be used efficiently, with reduced use of products after preventative practices are implemented. The goal of biodiversity for a farm should include protecting and providing habitat for wildlife, buffering wild areas, and supporting biological cycles with habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. Energy goals promote efficiency and renewable sources. The waste mantra is reduce, reuse and recycle. Since a CNG farm is a business, the goal of economic viability is to maintain and improve the bottom line and pay yourself and staff fair wages. And lastly, the program encourages the goal of engaging the community to educate the public and increase food access for all.
I was honored to conduct the “Certified Naturally Grown” inspection for Michael’s operation in Castle Hayne in February. Terra Vita passed with flying colors, and I can attest to his commitment to the protection of the air, soils, waters, and biodiversity of the surrounding land. You can find Terra Vita products each Saturday morning at the Wilmington Farmers Market at Tidal Creek.
Lloyd Singleton serves as the director for NC Cooperative Extension, New Hanover County center at the Arboretum. The grounds are free to visitors and open daily from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Lloyd can be reached at 910-798-7660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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